Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Playing Russian roulette with a magic bullet

Marriage is usually followed by a honeymoon, and nothing defines honeymoons better than sex. With our movement in its post marriage-equality glow, now feels like an ideal time to talk about gay sex.

It's not something LGBT rights groups are interested in discussing, as they weigh whether employment discrimination, school bullying or defending against "religious freedom" legislation should succeed marriage as our top priority. In fairness, many LGBT individuals are also uncomfortable shifting our movement's gaze from the altar to the bedroom.

"I'm not sure sex without consequences should be the thing we're fighting for," one of my best friends said as we were discussing the merits of PrEP. "I see its benefits, but I struggle with accepting that our main argument should be that whores can now be bigger whores."

PrEP is the common name for an anti-HIV drug more formally known as Truvada, and its benefits are profound. Long used as part of a drug cocktail for HIV-positive individuals, Truvada has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective in protecting against the disease when taken daily by HIV-negative men.

It is the most powerful weapon in HIV prevention since the condom, and it is tempting to consider it a magic bullet that will finally free gay men from the grip of Plague. When we were dying, gay men and lesbians made sure latex was distributed in bars, bookstores and community centers and at parades and porn shoots; now that we're marrying, there's no parallel commitment to make sure our population is armed with the most modern life-saving tool.

It is time to revisit our old nemesis. It's time for us once again to declare war on HIV/AIDS, using the savvy of the marriage equality era, the desperate passion of the 1980s and 1990s, and the unapologetic ethos of Stonewall and its aftermath.

We must not forget the terror this virus rained down upon a generation of gay men, or forego an opportunity to inflict a devastating blow. We should not discard the safer sex strategy that saved thousands of lives, but neither should we hesitate to pull new triggers because we are too embarrassed to admit that some gay men, like many people, enjoy sex without condoms.

It's a difficult discussion to initiate following a marriage equality campaign vested in portraying how normal, boring and virtuous gay and lesbian relationships are. Love won, not gay barebacking.

Our commitment to de-sexualizing our movement has hampered our progress, as even many people who support the theory of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality remain squeamish about most manifestations of male-on-male intimacy, from kissing to butt sex.

The right to fuck was an immediate priority for the crusade birthed by the Stonewall Riots, befitting the broader sexual liberation attitudes of the 1970s. It’s tragic that our community’s sexual awakening coincided with the onset of AIDS, and that many of us have internalized our opponents’ misconception that there was a cause-and-effect dynamic between the two.

The LGBT reaction to the AIDS epidemic was one of the most remarkable responses to crisis in human history, and laid the foundation for the social and political might that brought about Obergefell v. Hodges. We tamed HIV/AIDS, but did not slay it, and it is time to commit ourselves to finishing the job—with condoms, PrEP and a re-invigorated search for a cure.

It’s intimidating to stare down HIV/AIDS once again, and disquieting to advocate on behalf of behavior that once killed us. But as we plot our next political battle, many gay men remain exposed to unnecessary risk, and our failure to prep them with all available protection is an abandonment of our legacy.